Miscellaneous Papers Relating to Anthropology/Antiquities of Jackson County, Illinois


By G. H. French, of Carbondale, Ill.

Among the many objects attesting that Southern Illinois is part of a region once inhabited by a race of people about whom comparatively little beyond conjecture is known, the various mounds and cairns form a conspicuous part. The exploration of one of these structures was the subject of two visits by Dr. B. B. Chapin, a resident of this place, and myself on the 3d of April and the 3d of June, 1878. The mound is situated on the farm of E. M. Norbury, about 3 miles south of here, and is about 40 rods west from the Illinois Central Railroad, on a hill that forms a spur from a comparatively level area of land back a little from a creek on the south, and just in the edge of a piece of second-growth oak timber. Situated as it was on the point of this hill, it was difficult to judge at first of either its height above the natural ground or of its size; but subsequent examination showed that it was, in its highest part, about 3 feet above the original ground, and it appeared to be 25 or 30 feet in diameter. We found, however, that inside these limits was a series of stones that seemed to have been placed around the base of the mound to hold the dirt in position as it was heaped up, and as the elements in time had removed the dirt from the higher parts and spread it around and beyond these stones they had become partly or wholly covered up, while the extent of the structure was increased. If this theory is correct, and the position of the contents of the mound seemed to indicate that it is, the mound was originally oval or nearly oblong, and measured 12 by 15 feet in its shortest and longest diameters.

For 2 or 3 rods to the south and for 20 or more rods to the north and northwest, chips of flint were abundant, both mingled with the soil and on its top. The same soil and flints mixed with broken bits of pottery formed the general substance of the mound. These seemed to indicate that the immediate vicinity had been the site of an Indian workshop and perhaps camping ground. In the time when this ground was covered with the primeval forest the small branches only a few rods to the east and west would have afforded them water most of the year, if this locality ever formed a permanent place of abode; while the creek, from 50 to 80 rods to the south, would be the unfailing source when the heats of summer had dried up the others. Several other facts seemed to point to this as having been for them a central position. Across the creek, that is to the south, and 80 or more rods on the other side, in a southwesterly direction, was a stone mound that we also explored, but found no remains of any character either in or about it. It seemed to be simply a monument of direction as much as anything we could discover, an irregular cairn of stones in such a position that the natural contour of the land would indicate there might have been here a trail, but all other marks are now obliterated. Still farther to the south, but whose exact position I did not learn, are several other mounds, which I think have been more or less explored. To the southeast, at a distance of 5 or 6 miles, is a structure known now as "Stone Fort," that is supposed to have been constructed by the Indians, and probably for defensive purposes. This is, or evidently has been, a wall across the neck of a projecting point of rocks, though it is now but a long pile of stone as though a wall had been demolished. Northwest from this mound, some 12 or 15 miles west of Carbondale, are other mounds, while north or northwest of these are others, as though forming a line with those that have been found within the vicinity of East Saint Louis and Alton. All these facts seem to bear more or less directly on the idea that at some time this locality had been a place of general work and resort.

The central part of the mound had been more or less disturbed on top by having been a place where brush and other refuse had been burned, and where hogs had lain and rooted, but it was claimed by Mr. Norbury, the owner of the place, that other than this it had not been disturbed. As intimated before, the mound was composed of the natural black surface soil of the place mingled with chips of flint and broken pieces of pottery, the latter red, the flint of a blue kind, and in all shapes and sizes, but we found no arrow-heads or other implements of the same kind of stone. We found only one arrow-head, and that was of white flint, regular lanceolate shape and about 3 inches long. The pieces of pottery were all small and of irregular shapes. The' only implement found, other than the arrow-head, was a thong-gauge, about 3 inches long by about an inch and a half wide, with two gauge-holes and a slight depression on one side between the holes as though a place for the thumb when used. This was composed of either red stone or pottery; I am inclined to think the first, as it seemed to be too compact for pottery, or at least more so than the broken pieces found.

In the northwest part of the mound was found a skeleton in a horizontal position lying on the back with the head towards the northeast, and about 3½ feet below the top of the mound. The bones were so decomposed that it was with difficulty that a whole one of any part of the skeleton could be taken out without breaking and crumbling, though while in position the shape of the skull indicated that it corresponded with those taken from other mounds at Sand Ridge, this county, and other points in the vicinity.

No other complete skeleton was found in the mound, though pieces of human bones representing nearly all parts of the skeleton were scattered through different parts of the structure, together with the bones of other animals. Of these we could recognize the lower maxillary of deer and the atlas of a bear, but the rest were too much broken to be identified. Besides these there were a few land-shells, a species of helix, and a few broken salt-water shells, perhaps of some species of unio. The scattered human bones were all of them more or less broken, the breaking seeming to have been done when the bones were fresh. In one or two instances only were we able to find the different pieces of the same bone. In one case a femur was broken into three pieces, the head and two parts of the shaft, and these were 2 or 3 feet apart. It may be stated here also that these scattered human bones, the flints and broken pieces of pottery, together with the shells and bones of animals, were all of them above the depth where the skeleton was found, as though they were mixed with the earth of which the mound was built. We could account for this in the following manner: The chips of flint, shells, bones of animals, and the scattered human bones were on the surface when the burial took place, and after the body had been placed in position the dirt on the surface that could be the most easily obtained was gathered up together with whatever was scattered over the surface. Of this the mound was built, and, from what we know of the habits of the Indians of the present, it takes but little imagination to form a picture of the squaws gathering up this material in their baskets and carrying it to the place where it was wanted. This would imply that the people who did the burying were cannibals, and the broken character of the scattered human bones would in a measure substantiate that view.